Michael Carbonaro :: Behind the Magician's Cape

by Joel Martens

Rage Monthly

Friday October 13, 2017

Who doesn't love a good prank or slight of hand? That delightful sense of glee when you've managed to "pull the wool" over someone's eyes, catching them unawares... and hopefully making them laugh as they discover they've been duped? We've all experienced it in one form or another, that delicious moment when "something's afoot," and what you imagined

was real, suddenly isn't quite what you expected.

It's those magical moments that drive people like illusionist Michael Carbonaro. He is like a snake charmer though only figuratively, as he plays an intoxicating tune on his lute, employing his affable nature, boyish good looks and charisma as he draws his victims in to his elaborately constructed, splendid world of illusion. Then, with a sweet, alluring twinkle in his eye, his quick, intelligent mind springs the trap set for you, doing so before you realize you've even been ensnared. There's magic afoot for sure, and it's often hilarious to boot.

Whether it's done live or on his television show "The Carbonaro Effect," this guy has definitely got the gift and he's not afraid to use it on anybody, anywhere, anytime. From his shaving cream antics on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" to stalking unwitting victims in their local grocery stores, Michael Carbonaro has captured America in his magical snare and made us all unwitting accomplices in his hilarious antics. He's a master at the craft: Duplicitous in the most enthralling way, underhanded in a most hysterical manner, beguiling, kind and generous... truly a gay magician in every sense of the word.

Here's a look into Carbonaro's life, how his world has been affected by his experiences and how he effects ours because of them.

The first question that popped into my head when I was prepping for this interview was, "How do you ask a magician how they do what they do?" It feels like I'd be breaking some sort of code around revealing the inner workings of the mysteries of the craft.

Well, it is true, there is definitely a code of ethics in magic. Yet, there are always some secrets to be revealed, but the really good ones remain a secret. It's still the number one rule in magic: You don't give away a secret. Once someone knows something or you've told even one person, is it really a secret anymore? I guess it is, because magicians share secrets, but they're still considered secrets. There are trade secrets, personal secrets, but we won't go into those. (Laughs).

You know what a good personal secret to have is though? Random acts of kindness. Just do something nice and not tell anyone about it.

The other question that came into my head around this was, "Did he come into the world with a cape on?" Is that an accurate picture?

You absolutely nailed it, in a way no one has before as far as coming into the world with a magic cape, on. (Laughs) The cape was one of the first most fascinating things as a kid growing up. I had to have one, just from watching "Superman," from Dracula and from magicians... it had such power to me. It's funny I even show it in my live show, I have a picture of me as a kid with my Dracula cape and my magic cape, it was one that I used for both. That was kind of like...

I didn't really know what I wanted to be when I was growing up, I really loved Halloween and monsters, so I really wanted to be a makeup artist. That was kind of my way into magic, my first magic book was really a special effects makeup book by a man named Tom Savini. He did all of the effects for "Creep Show" and "Friday the 13th," and it was a wonderful book on practical effects and how to make them and how to create these little illusions and boy, I was really into it.

Who didn't want a cape when they were little? I was fascinated by them too, and making them out of my mother's sheets or whatever else was handy, much to her chagrin. And it had nothing to do with being gay or that I liked pretty flowy things... (laughs).

Oh yeah, my brother and I would use panels of my grandma's curtains, they were these yellow sheer translucent capes! (Laughs) Thank you. You can

say what you want, but they were yellow chiffon... Okay? (Laughs)

I knew this would be a fun interview. (Laughs) When and who did you perform your first magic act for?

Me and the kid across the street put on a little magic show. Then I put on a magic show with some of my cousins, too... we did that for family and friends. But it was really through buying special effects kits at the magic shop -- this is back in the day when there were actually shops you could walk into, hang out in and see tricks right in front of your face, versus finding stuff online -- I would just chill out there, and through that discovered that I loved performing. I loved the thrill that I got out of showing people the special effects and having them go, "Whoa!" That is much more a magician's task, to be the master of ceremonies.

It's funny, though, on my TV show, "The Carbonaro Effect," I'm actually the master of ceremonies so to speak, but all I do is pretend... to not be a magician.

It's pretty fascinating watching you, how you obfuscate that you're a magician. It's part of the fun of it, though I often wonder how you manage to keep a straight face.

I think the same thing when I watch, but when I'm doing it, I don't think that at all. There have been very few moments when I've wanted to crack up. Then I watch later and am literally scratching my head thinking, "Oh my gosh, how did you not laugh?"

I'm curious, was there anyone in particular you modeled yourself after, someone that inspired you?

David Copperfield, for sure. He still remains the last of the great showmen for magicians. I learned from David how to play with an audience, to goof around, then to be serious and follow that with something dramatic. He manages to weave in and out of a broken Fourth Wall (a theatrical term for the imaginary "wall" between actors on stage and the audience), which is technically what it really is. A magician, like a television host, gets to kind of have an evening that's like a theatre show, yet you're breaking that wall by always talking to the crowd, and we're all here in the moment together... it's a really special thing to get to do.

It's also very different because it requires a unique focus on your part. To keep the audience fixated specifically on what it is you're doing, rather than on you.

There is definitely a maintaining of attention - managing where the focus is - to distract or to focus the attention toward the illusion. You have to focus people down that ride, especially when it's done live. There are a lot of diehard fans of "The Carbonaro Effect" who secretly wonder if the TV show is just a bunch of camera tricks. They come to see if I can actually do this kind of thing in front of their eyes... and I do fool them! It's quite a ride

throughout the show. Then it ends with me covering myself in shaving cream and molding myself into different monsters. (Laughs) I'm so not kidding...

Oh, I know you're not. I saw your stint on Jimmy Kimmel's show... it was hysterical.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. (Laughs) It comes from this random thing that I used to do when I was a little kid and now I close my show with it. It's a real treat for me and audiences seem to love it.

Because I'm old enough to remember "Candid Camera," "The Carbonaro Effect" reminded me of that format. Is that something you pulled from as you were putting this together?

Oh yes, one hundred percent. I've seen every episode of "Candid Camera" and watched the reruns as a kid. It's an homage, and more than that, there have been so many other prank shows since "Candid Camera," there have even been magic prank shows way before me. The thing about my show that I like to relate to Allen Funt's work is that, even though on occasion we sometimes like to give people a little bit of a scare, the whole show is in good fun and is not mean spirited.

The reactions people have on television are pretty amazing to watch. Have there ever been any that have completely taken you by surprise?

All of the time. I never know for sure what way it's going to go. I've got this great team of magician masterminds behind the scenes, five tight-knit friends I've had since I was a kid, going back to the days when I was at magic camp on Long Island. I'll do something that I think is going to be the best thing ever, and it ends up being just alright, kind of pfft. Then I'll do something, just this little thing and that little thing ends up being "Whoa, oh my gosh."

Wait, magic camp... there's an actual magic camp? Oh my God, I love it. Please tell us what that was like!

(Laughs) Yes, there absolutely is one. It's a magic camp called Tannen's Magic Camp, it's still going and it's great. It's a week-long sleep away camp... and it's not just a little weekend away kid's thing. It's an intense magic experience, filled with workshops and stuff like that. You eat, sleep and drink magic, magic, magic, all the time. It was such a cool place to meet like-minded weirdos who liked pranks and magic, all that stuff that you would find in a magic store; makeup, special effects, gags, all of it.

People ask me what I recommend for someone interested in getting into magic. There are two things: Number one, go to Tannen's Magic Camp. If you can do it, make sure to go. Number two, I recommend kids take some kind of theatre class, like anything outside of magic to enhance their performance abilities. Be it dance, movement, acting, being in a local play or even just a debate class, those things can really improve your skill sets.

Was there a specific event like being on "The Tonight Show," or another moment when you thought, "I can't believe I'm doing this right now?"

I've had a lot of those moments, and I'm so incredibly grateful for them all. I used to judge how good I was doing by how nervous I was leading up to the event or whatever was happening. "Oh, this is a big one, because I'm going to be on Conan O'Brian and I'm terrified," or "Oh my gosh, I'm premiering my own TV show." It's funny, though, sometimes even when I'm up for a corporate event or for a theatre show in like Idaho, I will be like so nervous

backstage. (Laughs) "Michael, you've been on national TV for years, you've done everything, just relax." (Laughs) It's really kind of all about the charge, it's an excitement and I've had it ever since I was thirteen. Tonight I'll be doing it, too, I'm going to go back there wondering if I'm more exited or nervous.

When I did "Another Gay Movie" - wait, you know what, that was the moment I felt like I had made it - when I did that film. It came out in the summer of 2006 and we shot it in 2005 I think, or it was something like that. When that movie came out at the Tribecca Film Festival, I brought my parents and I was up there on the big screen. I got to do a festival circuit screening the movie and I remember thinking, "Wow, this is everything I ever asked for." I remember crying when I was on set shooting that film, because I was so excited. I was so happy that it was happening, and was smart enough to know that it might never happen again, so it was important to remember the moment and how I was feeling.

For much more of Michael Carbonaro's interview, go to


Witness the magical effects of Michael Carbonaro Live! on the stage of Downtown San Diego's Balboa Theatre, 868 Fourth Avenue on Thursday, October 19. For other show times, for tickets or for more information, go to michaelcarbonaro.com

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